Cheap day out in London

Plan a wallet-friendly trip with our guide to the best free and discounted things to do in a day.

A day out in London doesn't have to cost a lot of money. There are plenty of free London attractions, cheap restaurants and cut-price tickets for West End shows, meaning that you can enjoy the very best of the capital without breaking the bank. 

Morning: explore London's free museums

Entrance hall at the London Natural History Museum.
Visit the free Natural History Museum. Image courtesy of Reid.

London is brimming with world-class museums and galleries, which are often free to visit. 

Spend your morning at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square, where you can see paintings by world-famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Van Gogh.

If you’ve already experienced the delights of the National Gallery, try the charming Wallace Collection instead. Housed in a grand residence near Marble Arch, the Wallace Collection includes portraits, porcelain and a large collection of armour and weaponry. The British Museum is also a must-see for first-time visitors to London. Its remarkable collection includes the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and some well-preserved Egyptian mummies.

You also can hop between the free Natural History MuseumVictoria and Albert Museum and Science Museum by spending the morning (and possibly some of the afternoon) in South Kensington.

Lunch: tuck into cheap eats in Carnaby

London Carnaby's Kingly Court with people sitting at outside tables enjoying food and drinks on a summer's day.
Enjoy cheap eats in Carnaby's Kingly Court. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Whether you've spent your morning at the National Gallery or Wallace Collection, it's an easy walk, Tube or bus ride to the cool area of Carnaby, near Oxford Circus, for a wallet-friendly lunch:

  • Head over to Leon for healthy salads, wraps, vegan burgers and hot lunches at affordable prices.
  • Visit Mother Mash to sample the inexpensive British favourite: pie, mash and gravy.
  • Treat yourself to a perfectly cooked steak and beef dripping chips at Flat Iron.

For year-round alfresco eating in picture-pretty surroundings, head over to Carnaby's Kingly Court: a vibrant three-storey dining destination. You’ll find a good range of reasonably-priced restaurants and cool eateries, including Pizza Pilgrims and Le Bab.

If you're looking to grab a bite to eat in another area of the capital, there are plenty more cheap lunch spots in London.

Afternoon: go sightseeing around London

Two young women walking on Portobello Road in west London’s Notting Hill on a summer's day.
Explore the stalls and shops at Portobello Road Market. Image courtesy of visitlondon/Antoine Buchet.

Once you've satisfied your hunger, resist the urge to splash more cash with a relaxing afternoon in Hyde Park. Take a stroll around the peaceful Serpentine lake, sit and read underneath the trees, let little ones run wild on the adventure playground or hire a Santander Cycle to explore more of the park – it only costs £2 for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes!

If you can't resist a bit of bargain hunting, check out one of London's bustling marketsPortobello RoadCamden MarketGreenwich Market, Brixton Market and Old Spitalfields Market are all good options for cheap shopping in London, and offer everything from food and antiques to clothes and flowers.

Enjoy some wonderful walks in London's districts, including the City of London and South Bank for some cool river views.

Alternatively, spend the afternoon visiting some top London landmarks:

Evening: catch a cheap London theatre show

Palladium Theatre in London's West End at night with cabs waiting outside the entrance.
Catch a theatre show in London's West End. Image courtesy of Reid.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, return to Leicester Square in central London and wander around the free Scenes in the Square. Avoid the pricier bars and restaurants found in the square and check out Chinatown – centred on Gerrard Street – which has lots of cheap restaurants. 

After dinner, head over to London’s West End to bag yourself some standby theatre tickets: returns and unsold tickets priced at a considerable discount. Pick which top London theatre show you want to see and line up at the theatre box office, but be prepared to race around for your second or third choice!

If that seems too hectic, visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, where you can buy West End theatre tickets with huge discounts on the day and also up to seven days before the show. Alternatively, avoid the queues and book theatre tickets online in advance.

Those who want a late-night culture fix can check out one of London's free museum and gallery lates. There’s also plenty of London comedy shows on offer, and party animals can enjoy a cheap night out in London.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, take a look at this guide to budget London. You can also discover the top money-saving tips for your trip, choose from 101 free things to do in London or enjoy some of the capital's free events.